Little Bits of History

Can You Use Ink?

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 21, 2010

Crossword puzzle

December 21, 1913: British-born Arthur Wynn is asked to create a new game for the New York World’s Sunday’s edition “Fun” section and publishes the first “word-cross” soon to be called crossword puzzles. It is said that crosswords are the most popular and widespread word game in the world. They are based on an ancient game called magic squares with remnants found in the ashes as Pompeii.

Wynne’s first puzzle was diamond shaped without black squares but containing a blank center. Before long, other American newspapers began publishing the fun puzzles. It took the New York Times quite a while to jump on the bandwagon. The quintessential Sunday puzzle of today didn’t make an appearance until 1942 and the daily puzzles in the Times only began in 1950. Collections of puzzles were first published by Simon and Schuster in 1924.

Wynne, from Liverpool, created his puzzles in America and it took until February 1922 before they got to his homeland. British puzzles were modified by the natives and are called cryptic puzzles today. They have far more black space, less intersections, and the clues are little puzzles in themselves.

Crossword puzzles are usually built on a symmetrical grid, meaning that turning the puzzle 180º will make it look exactly the same. There are clues for Across and Down words. “Member of Cong.” would be a clue that the answer is an abbreviation and a question mark after the clue means the answer is a pun. Sometimes puzzles are built around a theme. There are also variations on the puzzles: Diagramless, the solver is given a blank grid and clues and must fill in both the words and the black spaces, Fill-ins, the solver is given all the words and a grid and must figure out where to put the words, and Cross Numbers, where numbers are used rather than letters.

“Egotism, n: Doing the New York Times crossword puzzle with a pen.” – attributed to Ambrose Bierce, although this is impossible. Bierce disappeared in 1914 and the New York Times didn’t start printing crossword puzzles until 1942

“I’m good at crossword puzzles, I’m not so good at people puzzles.” – Carrie, from Sex and the City

“Crosswords were a mania in the 1920s when the first books appeared and a lot of people thought they would come and go.” – Will Shortz

“If you have an active mind, it always helps. You know, people who don’t do crosswords, their minds fall asleep. That’s why I do them – my mind is always working. One day my brain is going to explode through the top of my head.” – Brett Hull

Also on this day, in 1962 Norway got its first National Park.